Hello, my freaky darlings! This started out as just some random thought that popped into my head, but I ran with it, and now I have a whole novel just waiting to burst out. In which Ana, to blur the fandoms even more, has the abilities of both Edward and Aro, and how they would affect her life and, of course, her relationship with Christian. Any and all feedback is deeply appreciated.
Now, let's get on with the show!
Disclaimer: All characters are the intellectual property of E.L. James.
P.S. To my One Piece fans, I'm not dead. It's just that NGP is being a brat. I keep rewriting and blocking and then rewriting and I just can't get it right. When I finally wrestle chapter 9 into submission, you'll be the first to know.
P.P.S. Yeah, I read the books. As with Naruto, there's some great material that was poorly utilized by its own creator. So it's up to people like us to make the best of what they gave us.
I regard myself in the mirror with scrutiny. My hair, as disagreeable as usual, has been beaten into some semblance of order by Katherine Kavanagh's industrial strength hair straightener and then tied back into an unassuming tail. My pale skin is free of make-up, my ears unadorned with jewelry. Watery, overlarge blue eyes look back at me as I nod. I look utterly uninteresting, no part of my appearance likely to draw attention. I am just another face in the crowd.
That's all I ask out of life sometimes.
Under normal circumstances, I would avoid dense population centers like the plague. However, Kate has come down with actual plague (actually just a simple flu, but you'd think she was dying by her whining). This has rendered her unable to attend the interview she so painstakingly arranged with one Christian Trevelyan-Grey, self-made billionaire and the man conferring the degrees for the WSU Vancouver Class of 2011. He's a BIG DEAL, triple underline, and this interview is to be the front page news of the graduation issue of the school newspaper. It's scheduled for today, and no one else on the paper is free. So, with Kate confined to bed rest and fluids, and as her roommate and unofficially adopted sister, I am the prime candidate to replace her.
Only for Kate would I waste a tank and a half of gas commuting to a city of over half a million people.
She's shambled to the living room couch, a mountain of crumpled tissues around her. Even leaking mucus, she looks more like a cheerleader than an editor.
"Ana, I'm so sorry," she starts, her voice raspy and pathetic. Any lingering resentment I have dies in my chest. Kate is one of the brightest people I've ever met. She's bubbly and optimistic without being naïve. To see her in any kind of pain feels wrong somehow, like if Barbie were an addict and living in a trailer park instead of married to Ken in their mansion.
"Shush, now," I murmur, brushing her hair out of her face and ignoring the customary mental buzz. "You've been trying to get this interview since the start of fall semester, someone should make sure that work doesn't go to waste. I've got your questions and the recorder in my bag. Here's some NyQuil, go back to bed. There's lemon orzo on the stove for later, just the way you like it."
She sighs in relief. "You're my lifesaver, Ana. I don't know how I'll ever repay you."
I smile and turn to grab my bag. As I pull on my gloves, I hear her again, though her lips aren't moving. She takes such good care of me. If I ever find a guy like that, I'll marry him on the spot. Though if he has her fashion sense, that might be a deal breaker. Turtleneck and floor-length skirt, all black? Sheesh, it's like an undertaker and a librarian had a really, really dull baby. No wonder she still has her v-card. Well, other than the obvious. Mark my words, I'll get that story out of her one day if it kills me.
I try not to grin and give her a final wave before I'm out the door.
I try to tune out the buzz of thoughts as I make my way out the little complex of duplex apartments, but there's no ear buds for this kind of hearing. Mrs. Peterman is in remission. Maybe I'll bake her cookies and leave them at her door. The Hoight's are arguing again. She thinks he's having an affair. He's not, he's just working a second job to pay off his gambling debts. Mitch Tyler is masturbating to a video of a woman and a Great Dane. I suppress the urge to vomit as I hurry past his door. To each their own, but some stuff is just wrong.
I slide into Kate's Mercedes, offered in lieu of the once-again convalescing Wanda. I turn the key, feeling the engine purr and the air become cool and fragrant thanks to Kate's clip-on air freshener. I stay in park though, leaning back my head and taking a moment to breathe.
Not for the first time, I wish I'd been born normal.
For as long as I can remember, I've been able to hear thoughts. I didn't think it was special; I thought everyone could. People have a mouth-voice and a head-voice. That seemed as obvious to me as the sky being blue. If people never seemed to act on it, then that was grown-up craziness like kissing or drinking smelly grape juice. My mom and stepdad worried when I was little how I never seemed to ask for stuff. When I tried to explain that I did say it, they just didn't hear it, they would just sigh and remind me to really ask the next time. That revolving door lasted until I was six.
My mom had taken me to the girl next door's house to do our homework together. We'd finished and been doodling when her dad came out and told her mom that he had to go back to the office. I'd spoken up, asking why he said that when he was really going to see some lady named Precious. Next thing I know plates were flying through the air and my mother was dragging me out the door. I would later learn that my question led to a bitter divorce and the girl moving away. It was my first lesson in how dangerous my gift could be.
Mom sat me down and kept asking me how I knew about 'that woman'. I kept saying I heard him say it, she kept asking how, and I kept answering "cuz he said it". It wasn't until Ray got home and heard that we made any progress. Eyebrows pinched, he'd hesitantly asked me what he was saying right then. When I answered with the line-up of the Mariners, that's when they finally got it.
I'll never forget their faces. Ray's eyes wide with wonder, my mom covering her mouth with her hand in horror. That was a good indication for their general attitudes towards my 'gift', too. My mom panicked, wanting to call every doctor in the state to see if there was a way to 'fix' me. Ray shut her down, saying this had to stay secret. He was ex-military, he'd seen some things. He knew there were those that would want to use me if they ever found me. And I just sat there, staring, a sinking feeling in my tummy as I realized that I was different.
That was the first day I wished I was normal.
Throughout elementary school, I learned to keep my mouth shut. I didn't even raise my hand to answer questions in class for fear I'd let slip something I wasn't supposed to know. My cautious behavior made me the odd one out, a loner. I knew everyone's secrets, and I found out the hard way I couldn't use them. I couldn't tell crushes they liked each other, I couldn't talk to the boy about his dad hitting him, I couldn't even tell the police how the custodian was the one that stole the computers from the lab. Every time I tried, it led to disaster.
Over and over Ray tried to explain to me that I had to keep a low-profile. But I couldn't just stand by. What was the point of being psychic if I couldn't do anything with it? My mom would always just give me a look and then pretend nothing was wrong.
I tried to get sneakier, finding ways to release or use information that I had no ordinary way of knowing. It was a slow learning curve, and most days I took Ray's advice and tried to just let things go.
It wasn't until puberty that the real problems started.
For a few weeks, my 'hearing' started to go haywire. For hours at a time, it would just go away, leaving me with an eerie silence that was too strange for me to really appreciate at the time. Then it would come slamming back with a vengeance, turning everyone within about 50 yards of me into a rock concert of blaring noise. I kept my mouth shut, though; it wasn't like Ray or my mom could fix it, and I was forbidden from discussing it with anyone else.
It all cumulated a week after my 13th birthday, when I'd awoken to a blinding headache. It was truly terrible, to the point where I couldn't even stand. I'd lain there moaning, until Ray came in to check up on me. In the moment before he laid his hand on my forehead, I'd been happy that I could hear him just fine.
Then his bare skin touched mine.
Up until that point, my telepathy had been like a radio. I simply picked up what other people were broadcasting. The more I focused and the more familiar I was with someone, the easier I could 'tune in' to their specific 'frequency'. And, most importantly, I'd only ever picked up what was going through a person's head at that point in time. Stream of consciousness only.
Ray touching me was like plugging a cable into a computer. There was a rushing sensation and then suddenly I saw everything.
I saw him roughhousing with his two brothers on Thanksgiving Day, 1974. I saw him go all the way with Denise Marsh at his prom. I saw him hugging his father and crying mother before leaving for boot camp. I saw him say 'I do' to my mom with me in a stroller. Every thought, every feeling, every memory his whole life through right up to walking into my room and worrying I had a fever.
Looking back, I might have overreacted. Then again, what's the standard response to having another person's entire life shoved into your skull? Basically, I had a total breakdown. I'd shoved Ray out of my room screaming like a banshee. Then I'd locked myself in my closet for hours and dissolved into hysterics. I felt totally disconnected from my body, floating in a turbulent sea of emotions and ideas that weren't mine. I almost chewed my lip off, constantly biting it to try and ground me whenever I started to feel more like Raymond than Anastasia. For a while there, I feared he'd win. It was totally overwhelming; in the blink of an eye, barely a quarter of my mind was that of a teenage girl. 36 years tried to drown my measly 13.
It was the most scared I'd ever been in my life.
When I came out of the closet, I was a different person. Ana had come out on top, firmly planted in the driver's seat once again, but she was now at the helm of so much more. A veteran's strength, a husband and father's love, a cop's weariness. They weren't my own, except now they were. I'd go on to pick up more, all of it tenuously held together by the central link of 'me'.
Some nights, when I can't sleep, I mourn for the girl who would never have her own chance to grow.
I emerged to find my mom and dad fighting. She wanted to call the freaking cops on me, he wanting to hear my side first. When they saw me, Ray rushed right at me with a hug. I braced for another onslaught, but I got a trickle instead of a flood. Apparently, my first time touching someone involved a full 'download', but everything after was just an 'update'. I explained the new expansion to my weirdness. Ray just nodded and said we'd learn to adapt. Mom just shook her head and turned away.
Wasn't that just the cherry on top of a craptastic day? The same day I learn physical contact equals a life-changing seizure, I realize my mom is too afraid of me to love me.
Suffice to say we don't have the warmest relationship today.
After that day, I became a true loner. I covered all the skin I could, which got me the reputation of a bible-thumping prude. I actually appreciated the scorn, as weird as that sounds; it made it easier to avoid people. I learned and experimented with social cues, concocting the perfect mask to keep people at a distance.
Other than Ray, I've only touched four people, two of them by accident: a little girl named Alice, in a park. Yamada Toshiro, a survivor of the Nagasaki nuclear explosion, when he brushed past me in a supermarket. And my two best friends, Kate and Adrian. I like to think that my physical isolation doesn't affect me too much. Still, I never knew how comforting something as simple as a handshake could be until the only people I could so much as poke could be counted on one hand.
It should come as no surprise that my favorite X-Man is Rogue.
I shake my head, clearing my head of musings. I have to get to Seattle by two, and rain had weird effects on traffic. I maneuver the CLK out of its spot and hit the road.
The trip to the Emerald City was short and sweet, all things considered. I will admit my 'unassuming wallflower' persona vanishes completely whenever I get behind a wheel. What with a built-in radar detector and idiot scanner, I have a higher-than-average contempt for the rules of the road. To use Kate's words, I "drive like goddamn Danica Patrick on her day off." Maybe that's why my antique Volkswagen bug is all but worn into scrap these days.
The interview is in Mr. Grey's personal office, located at the summit of his headquarters building Grey House, an imposing if understated edifice of steel and glass jutting 20 stories into the air. I ask the attendant at the building's garage if they have spots for people with appointments, and he pointed me to a marked section right by the elevators. Thank God for small mercies. Now I won't have to drop half a month's rent and hike in from Olympia.
I try to ignore the mild headache from being near so many people. One of the reasons I go to WSU Vancouver is because it's so small, relatively speaking. Less people means less thoughts battering at my brain. Kate has plans to move to Seattle after graduation, and I have hesitantly agreed, on the condition we look for a small neighborhood. My personal pain doesn't beat the job opportunities or the simple fact that if I wasn't there to look after her, Kate would burn out within a month.
The lobby is somehow both bright and muted, sunlight streaming through the steel-and-glass windows to almost glow off the white sandstone that dominates. I maneuver around all the people moving with purpose from point A to point B, minds focused on the latest task to ensure Grey Enterprise Holdings, Inc. is the top dog of the world of mergers and acquisitions. I get to the reception desk, where I am assessed by a girl named Jacqueline.
"Mr. Grey's 2:00. Anastasia Steele. Katherine Kavanagh is indisposed and sends her apologies."
"One moment, Ms. Steele," she purrs. I suppress the need to arch a brow as she literally spends more time comparing our outfits than looking at the computer. She looks like the poster girl for the working woman: blonde hair perfectly coiffed, dressed in a charcoal gray suit and silk dress shirt that cost more than my entire wardrobe. Compared to my shapeless trench coat and "undertaker-librarian" ensemble, I look like an emo pauper. I marvel sometimes at how much other women focus on their wardrobe. Even before I started to intentionally sabotage my appearance, I never got the fuss over fashion. One more way I'm a freak, I suppose.
"Miss Kavanagh is expected. Please sign in here, Miss Steele. You'll want the elevator on the far right." She hands me a visitor pass and watches me leave with an amused smirk. Mr. Grey is going to eat her alive is her last thought on me.
I walk past two security guards that wouldn't look out of place in the White House. I get that Grey makes more money in a year than some countries, but does he really need armed pros in the freaking lobby? Then again, a man doesn't secure that kind of success by taking chances. The elevator ride is fast enough that I'm glad Kate didn't talk me into heels.
I emerge into a lobby almost identical to the one I just left, right down to the expensively dressed blonde behind the desk. She jumps to her feet and points to some white leather chairs. She refers to me as "Miss Steele". Efficient of Jacqueline. I offer the new girl, Olivia, a smile. She's skittish underneath the poised exterior. She's only worked here a week and she's still nervous. As I glance at the vista of Seattle visible from a nearby meeting room, I sympathize. This whole place seems designed to intimidate.
I settle down and look through my bag, making sure everything is as I left it. I take a breath and dive into the 'Kate' portion of my mind. If she can't make it, then I'm going to make sure I do this just as she would. I review the biography she'd compiled on this guy: 28 next month, dropped out of Harvard his senior year, almost antisocial in his lack of personal interactions. I glance at the monochrome décor, surprised. If I didn't know better, I'd expect a guy in his forties showing off to his other business chums.
Yet another blonde model enters from behind a large door. I'm sensing a theme here. Grey must have a thing for blondes. Or perhaps the opposite, so there's no way he'd be tempted to dip his pen in the company ink. I look at the clinical interior again and conclude it must be the latter.
"Miss Steele?" the new girl asks as I stand up to face her.
"Yes," I murmur, not wanting to waste my breath with all the talking I'll have to cram in the next fifteen minutes.
"Mr. Grey will see you in five minutes. May I take your coat?"
"No, thanks," I refuse. I might be being dramatic, but the coldness of my surroundings is starting to physically affect me. I want every layer of protection I can when I face the man that crafted the whole thing.
"Have you been offered any refreshment?"
I hear Olivia panic and scold herself. "No, but I don't want anything. No harm done."
The poor girl sends me a grateful grin. Damn, just how cutthroat is the business world? The new girl, whom I pick up is Andrea, sends a stern look at Olivia before nodding goodbye and returning to her desk. I watch the two work for a bit, and it's clear that Andrea is the more experienced. Secretarial duties aren't much of a spectator sport, so I shift my focus to the office I shall soon enter. I pick up on two voices, one jovial and lighthearted, the other tired and petulant. With my luck, Grey will be the cranky one.
Sure enough, the happy voice comes near and it's a tall African American that exits. I raise a brow when his thoughts on training make something in my head click and I recognize him. Claude Bastille. Won the gold in kickboxing in Athens. My respect for Grey goes up a few points. Apparently the rich boy isn't afraid of hard work.
Bastille smiles at me. Cute little thing. Hope Grey doesn't scare her. I hide my frown. I'm a perfectly average height. Okay, not for the USA, but still! He bids goodbye to the girls behind the desk as he catches the elevator.
"Do go in, Miss Steele," Andrea says to me.
I stand up and stride with purpose to the half-open door. Think like Kate I order myself. Confidant, fearless, probing. This guy has a story and you're going to get every last detail. I nod to myself and cross the threshold into the belly of the beast.
And I trip on the freaking door frame.
Life hates me.
I scowl at the skyline. The only reason I agreed to this stupid interview is because Miss Kavanagh's father is a major telecoms magnate and I thought I could milk a favor out of this. And instead she can't show and sent some nobody in her place. Since I also had my ass kicked by fucking Bastille this morning, I am definitely in a bad mood. But so what? I'm the fucking master of the universe. I can sulk if I want to.
Damn, I need to get laid. I should meet up with Elena to see about a new sub. Hopefully she won't try and suggest herself again. I'm grateful to her for teaching me control, but the thought of her body makes me gag now that I've enjoyed much fresher fruits.
A commotion at the door draws my focus. A black mass seems to trip into my office, only to catch itself in a textbook push-up position. I raise a brow. My usual annoyance at such clumsiness is tempered by how impressed I am by her recovery. Most of the women I meet are dainty things, soft and ephemeral. This kind of strength and handling is a refreshing change.
I walk forward to offer her a hand up, only to get a hand held up in the universal 'stop' as she rises smoothly to her feet by herself. My admiration swiftly turns to annoyance. I was only trying to be a gentleman. Must be one of those super-independent feminazi types.
My thoughts freeze in their tracks as I look into the most amazing eyes I've ever seen.
They're so blue, like a robin's egg, or a winter sky. They're intense but unfocused, the way Taylor's get when he's paying attention to nothing and everything at once. For a second I feel like she can see right through me. I feel vulnerable, exposed, and I hate it. I jerk my eyes away from hers to look at the rest of her. She has a sweet face, like a doll's, and her cheeks are touched with the barest pink, like a rose. I wonder if all her skin is as flawless, and I picture how it would look warmed by a cane.
Her face suddenly closes up, almost as if she could hear that. I take a moment to chastise myself for the errant thought. This girl is far too young for me. She doesn't look old enough to drink. I wait for the usual 'gaga' expression I get whenever women meet me, but she doesn't so much as blink. Her eyes flick up and down my form with detached interest, homing back in on my eyes with that damn piercing stare.
"Miss Kavanagh? Are you okay? Do you need a seat?" I ask. I know she's not Kavanagh, but I want to throw her off, see her flustered. I extend my hand for her to shake, but she ignores it to actually bow at me. I try to keep my brow from reaching my hair. She doesn't look Asian. In fact, looking her over, she seems exactly my type. Pale, petite, and most definitely a brunette. Her mahogany locks reach halfway down her back, poorly bound by a hair tie.
"Miss Kavanagh is unavailable, Mr. Grey, as I'm sure Andrea told you. I will be interviewing you in her place."
I feel my hackles raise. She's staring me down, not looking the least bit cowed, calling me out on my little gambit. For a guy who gets his rocks off dominating women, this kind of defiance is exactly the kind of thing I can't stand.
"And you are?" I ask coolly, falling back on the manners my mother so painstakingly taught me.
"Anastasia Steele. I am Miss Kavanagh's roommate and I have her complete trust that I can handle this."
The words aren't boastful. More like she's trying to make it clear she has every right to be here. I glance at her clothes and think she needs all the assurance she can get. She's dressed hideously. All black, all shapeless, from her neck to her ankles. I note she even has on gloves.
"I see. Would you like to sit?" I ask, waving her at my couch.
She ignores me to look around my office. Her face doesn't betray any emotion, let alone the awe that I aim for and usually get. Her gaze settles on my paintings. In a better mood, I might explain them, but that ship sailed when she dared to talk back to me.
So I'm very surprised when she says "Trouton's 'Looking at the Overlooked', right? Shame you don't have room for all 300 frames. I love how she makes you think about things we all see but never really look at."
I'm struck dumb. Ms. Steele is very bright. The way the paintings make the ordinary extraordinary is what I like about them. "I agree," I mutter, reassessing her. She might be frustratingly immune to my usual power plays, but I'd give credit where credit is due.
She finally settles into a seat and I take one opposite her. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a sheet of paper and digital recorder. I thought those were already in museums. I watch her as she sets up her space. There's a fluidity to her movements, a surety of purpose, like she knows exactly how her body works and how to make it obey her wishes. Combined with her quick reflexes at the door, I guess that she takes some kind of martial art.
A bit pointless, if you ask me. She's tiny. She couldn't be 120 pounds soaking wet. I could bend her over my whipping post no problem. I shift to hide my reaction to that thought.
Her eyes shoot up to meet mine. Under a mask of patience, I think I see a flicker of annoyance. Am I being obvious or something? Normally I'm as unreadable as a statue. She bites her lip, and my attention is stolen. God, that mouth is perfect. Fuck me, but I can just see it wrapped around my cock.
That's definitely annoyance. What is she, psychic? "I will be recording this interview, Mr. Grey." It's not a question. I stifle my irritation at not even being asked. Then again, if she'd asked after already setting it up, I'd be mad at that. I'm an asshole like that, and I don't feel the least bit bad about that.
"I have some questions," she says as she glances at her paper, tucking a strand of loose hair behind her ear. I find myself wishing I could do it. Her hair looks so soft.
"I thought you might," I say dryly, hoping to see her squirm. She doesn't oblige me. Damn it. She hits 'start' on the recorder and launches right into it.
"You're very young to have amassed such an empire. To what do you owe your success?"
I try to hide my disappointment. Such a fucking dull question, completely unoriginal. I expected better. I give my standard response. "Business is all about people, Ms. Steele, and I'm very good at judging people. I know what makes them tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn't, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well." Blah, blah, blah. I blather on a bit, but the simple fact is I'm a fucking genius at this. The only difference between an ailing company and a successful one is the people in charge, and I know exactly how to read them. I surround myself with good people and cut away the bad with ruthless zeal. It's easy as breathing for me.
Miss Steele looks unimpressed. "That's it? No method, no trick, no wise words to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs? You're simply that good, and all this is just you assuming your rightful place?"
What the fuck? No one ever talked to me like that, challenging, as if I didn't deserve what I had. I worked my ass off to get where I am. I kept a close eye on everyone with me, second-guessing them when I had to, not letting emotion get in the way of logic, cutting away what didn't work like plucking weeds. "Not to put too fine a point on it, yes." Wanting to show off, I quote Harvey Firestone at her, the bit about development of people being the highest calling of leadership.
She raises a brow. "You have over forty thousand employees, Mr. Grey. You would have me believe that you use a personal touch with every single one of them? Surely you've learned that it's impossible to control every single aspect of a company this size?"
I clench my teeth. She's goading me, and it's pissing me off. "Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele." And I'd like to exercise control of her right now. Fix that attitude of hers.
She shrugs, retreating on that front. "Well, I suppose immense power is acquired by assuring yourself you were born to control things," she says offhandedly.
I almost gape at her. She'd taken the words right out of my mouth. She doesn't really smirk, but I see one in her eyes. "Is that why you haven't taken GEH public? You don't want to surrender control to a board?"
"That's right," I answer, before I catch myself. Damn, I shouldn't have said that. A few of my deals are made by promising stock to the people in charge, expertly phrased by Ros and legal so that it doesn't bite me in the ass when I stay private. I narrow my eyes. Somehow, she shocked me on purpose, so she could sneak that out of me. Excellent journalism, that. Kavanagh was right to trust her.
"Do you have any interests outside of work?" she moves on, back to banal questions I now suspect are to get my guard down.
"I have varied interests, Miss Steele. Very varied." Images of her all over my playroom run through my head. Fuck, where is this coming from? The barely-there blush is back, and it's captivating.
"Everyone has to decompress some time. How does the billionaire enjoy leisure time, Mr. Grey? How do you chill out?"
"Chill out?" I ask incredulously. Such an odd phrase to come out of such a smart mouth. Besides, my free time is in short supply. But she's waiting for an answer, those eyes peering straight into whatever passes for my soul, and I find myself answering. "I sail, I fly, I indulge in various physical pursuits."
"Expensive hobbies. No surprise there."
The way she says it, like she's censuring me, drives me insane. I'm in the fucking 99th percentile of the 99th percentile. Am I supposed to be some average Joe? Still, I find myself searching for something 'ordinary' I do, something to throw in her face to show her wrong.
"I also play piano," I finally say, only to wish I hadn't. That's personal. Music is the only way I can cope with my damn insomnia. I don't want that fact available to anyone that picks up a fucking college newspaper.
Surprisingly, Miss Steele just nods and moves on. "You invest in manufacturing. Why, specifically?"
"I like to build things." I elaborate while puzzling at why she hadn't seized the obvious opening. "I also have a love of ships. What can I say?"
"What can you say? Why do you love ships? Why invest money earned by logic and facts on something that has to do with your heart?"
I'm hardly going to tell her that I like ships because they deliver food around the planet. That wanders too close to my nightmare of a childhood. I deflect. "There are people who'd say I don't have a heart."
"Maybe you shouldn't spend time with those people, then." She says placidly. I have to stop my jaw from dropping. She's interviewing me, where does she get off giving me life advice? And the person who says that most often is Elena, and I can hardly stop spending time with her. She's the closest thing to a friend I have.
"You're a very private person. Why did you agree to this interview?"
"I'm a benefactor of the university. And, to be frank, Miss Kavanagh wouldn't take no for an answer. I admire that kind of tenacity." But I'm glad it's you who showed up. She's so damn fascinating. As infuriating as she is attractive.
The blush is back. Why? Because we were talking about Kavanagh? If she's a lesbian, that would explain why she didn't react to my looks. I feel inordinately displeased at the thought. She clears her throat and moves on. "You also invest in farming technologies. Why are you interested in this area?"
"We can't eat money, Miss Steele, and there are too many people on this planet that don't have enough to eat."
She narrows her eyes. "I suppose that's shrewd business. Think of all those starving children in the Sudan. If they could feed themselves, they wouldn't die, and then there'd be that many more consumers on the market."
What the fuck is she saying? I meant to come off as uninterested, but now she's painting me as some heartless bastard. I ignore the part of me that reminds the rest I was trying to give that very impression not five minutes ago. I'm fifty shades of fucked up, I'm allowed to be contradictory. "To say nothing of that much less suffering in the world as well," I counter, thinking fast.
She smiles then, fucking beams at me like I've impressed her. I forget how to breathe. My God, she's stunning. It's like the whole world just got brighter. Those dimples should come with a government health warning. I imagine that smile shining up at me as I fuck her mouth and I swear I almost jizz right then and there.
Just like that, the smile's gone and she's all business. "Do you have a philosophy? If so, what is it?" she rattles off by rote. I try to keep from pouting like a child. I want the smile back. It was easily the highlight of my day, hell, my whole month.
"Not as such. Maybe a guiding principle. Carnegie's. 'A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.' I'm very singular, driven. I like control… of myself and those around me." I'd love to control you, in fact, Miss Steele.
"Is that how you view the companies you buy? Things you're entitled to, things you deserve to possess?"
I frown. "Bottom line, yes," I say, but I'm hesitant. She'd phrased it wrong. Like I'm some spoiled rich kid grabbing up all the toys. It's more that I see a problem and I want to fix it, and then keep it as a trophy. The fact I make ludicrous amounts of money off it is just a nice bonus.
"Perhaps you should have adopted Julius' philosophy instead." She says musingly.
It takes me a moment to catch the vague reference. Ah, Caesar's famous words. Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. Come to think of it, that does suit me. I eye Miss Steele appreciatively. Brains and beauty. Based on her clothes (where'd they come from, the bargain bin at Walmart?) she doesn't have money, but two out of three ain't bad.
I could give you money, baby. Say the word and you'll be covered in diamonds.
Shit, where the fucking hell did that come from? I'll admit she's easy on the eyes, oh fuck it, who am I kidding, she almost has me drooling. But there's no way she could ever be my sub, not with that teasing, challenging mouth and eyes that manage to look down on me when I'm on top of the fucking world.
I really need to get laid. It's only been two months since Susannah, but that's clearly too long if I'm having thoughts like this. I mutter my agreement with her Caesar idea. That really was clever.
"You were adopted. How far do you think that's shaped the way you are?"
I scowl. What the fuck does that have to do with my second quarter? It's a ridiculous question anyway; if I'd stayed with the crack whore, I'd be dead by now. "I have no way of knowing," I blow her off.
She purses her lips. "Let me rephrase. How much of your success would you credit to your family's affluence and networking?"
That gets a reaction out of me. I pride myself on having earned all I have. I find myself ranting before I can stop myself. What the fuck is with this girl? It's like she pushes all my buttons and I don't even notice until it's too late. "None at all. I started this company in my bedroom with a loan. Two years later, I had over a million in the bank. I didn't take one cent from my parents, didn't use any of my father's contacts or advice, and I paid for my brother's services when I needed them. Grey Enterprises is where it is because of me and my team, nothing more."
She nods, taking the brunt of my anger and not so much as blinking. She gets points for that. Only Ros, Taylor and Flynn can take one of my tantrums without flinching. "Do you spend much time with your family?" She asks.
"I have two loving parents, a brother, and a sister. I see them enough."
She cocks her head at that. She spends a full ten seconds regarding me with those x-ray eyes of hers. I refuse to look away, but she almost has me squirming. What strange power does this woman have? "You're a lonely person," she finally says.
What the fuck?!
"That's not a question," I bark. Shit, what the hell was that? I'm not lonely. I'm surrounded by people all the time.
"No, it's not." She doesn't seem fazed at all. I'm beginning to hate that calm look on that pretty face. The smile, the blush, that damn bitten lip, those make her disarming. This right here makes her seem like a robot.
She glances at her paper and she snorts. I blink. It's a very unladylike sound, but for some reason I find it adorable. Did Bastille hit my head too hard or something? "You're one of, if not the most eligible bachelors in Seattle. Why is it that you're never seen with a girlfriend? Or boyfriend?" she tacks on, her eyes glinting with mischief.
I have to resist the overpowering urge to bend her over my knee and spank the living shit out of her. How dare she? My own family doesn't have the nerve to ask me if I'm gay. Not that she really did. If it weren't for the quirk of her lips, I'd think she was just being politically correct. But she did, and she's amused by it. I should fuck her right here on this couch, that would answer her question.
I take a deep breath to gather myself. Control, Grey. "My personal life is just that, Miss Steele: personal. And I wonder at your audacity for implying what you have, Anastasia." Hmm, Anastasia. Such a nice name. I like the way it rolls off my tongue.
She shrugs, totally unabashed. Will nothing fluster this woman? It's really getting on my nerves. "Kate would have asked you if you were gay point blank. I think I handled it more tastefully. When a man that looks like you, with pockets as deep as yours, is never seen with a woman, people wonder Mr. Grey."
"They can keep on wondering. But for the record, Miss Steele, I'm not gay."
"Duly noted." She looks at her paper again, searching for the next question, but I'm tired of dealing with these damn effective questions. Time to turn the tables on her.
"What kind of news do you intend to write about?" I ask. I'm genuinely interested. If she's half as effective at weaseling info out of other people as she is with me, she could win the Pulitzer in five years.
She blinks at me, her eyes guileless, but the corner of her mouth is twitching. "I'm not a journalism major."
What. The. Fuck.
My jaw didn't drop. I know it didn't, because billionaire CEO's don't drop their jaws at college girls. How the hell did she pull all those responses out of me if she wasn't trained, not even interested in writing? But she's smiling again, and I find I don't really care. Well, I do, but I'm burning with curiosity instead of rage at getting played, which is quite out of character for me.
Then fucking Andrea opens the door. "Mr. Grey, forgive me for interrupting, but your next meeting is in two minutes."
"Cancel it. We're not finished here." I don't even think about it. I'm Christian fucking Grey. Whoever it is, they'll reschedule.
Andrea gapes at me, and I give her The Look, as it's called around the office. She gets the message quick. "Very well, Mr. Grey." She turns on her heel, leaving me with the now much more interesting Anastasia Steele.
"Don't trouble yourself on my account," she states, her smile replaced with a trace of a frown. What, did she time that so she'd have the last word?
I smirk. "I can hardly let you leave after that little surprise, Miss Steele. If you're not a journalism major, why are you here doing this interview?"
She takes a breath and seems to settle in to weather her own inquisition. "As I said, Miss Kavanagh is indisposed. I elected to take her place."
Something in the way she said it makes me suspect that it was more involuntary than she let on. But I'm too curious about what she is studying. She's missed her calling, unless she's even better at what she actually cares about.
"What is your major then, Miss Steele?"
She seems to debate whether to answer. Technically, her time's used up. If she's not afraid to be rude, she could up and leave right now. But she relents. It occurs to me that she might be humoring me, but that idea doesn't frustrate me like it should.
"I'm a double major in Psychology and Humanities."
I arch a brow. And she had the time to come do this interview? "That explains a great deal." She's got some of the same know-how as Flynn. That explains how she knew how to get under my skin. I remember that humanities is a program WSU does that combines English with some other liberal art. "What's your second focus in Humanities?"
"Sociology." She grins, and it's not the same as her smile. It makes her seem mysterious, knowing, even more remote than her calm mask. I don't want that. I want her here, in the moment with me, not a thousand miles away. I don't know why, and I'll be sure to bring it up with Flynn, but all I care about right now is getting more of this bewitching creature. "You know how people think, Mr. Grey. I want to know why."
I smile, finding her desire charming somehow. Her eyes flicker to my mouth. Huh. Not a lesbian than. Or hopefully at least bi. Hopefully, because I fully intend to have this woman. I'm not sure how that's going to work, since she's not likely to be a sub and that's all I know, but the details can work themselves out later.
"What are your plans after you graduate?" I ask.
"My plan is to graduate, period."
"We run an excellent internship program here." Fuck, I'm really breaking every rule here. I never, ever fuck the staff. Then she bites her lip again, and I find I don't care. Damn, but that's arousing.
"I'll keep that in mind, Mr. Grey," Like an afterthought, she adds "But I refuse to dye my hair to get the job."
What the fuck does that mean? I ask her that, minus the expletive. A gentleman does not mouth off to a lady.
She raises a brow. "Maybe it isn't you. But whoever does the hiring for interns seems fixated on statuesque blondes, and I'd hate to break the pattern."
Are they really all blonde? I hadn't noticed. I just glanced at the resumes HR sent me before offering final approval. She starts putting her things back in her bag. Shit, she's going to leave. I go through my schedule, and nothing outranks more time with Miss Steele.
"Would you like me to show you around?"
"No I wouldn't, in point of fact."
Huh. So this is what rejection feels like. I don't like it. This is actually the first time a woman I was interested in didn't respond to me. Oddly, her refusal makes me more determined.
She's up and headed for the door, clearly done with me. If I were a reasonable man, I'd take the hint. But I'm Christian Grey. I always get what I want. And I want every second I can get with this girl.
Inspiration strikes me and I get the door for her. "Just ensuring you make it through okay, Ms. Steele," I murmur.
She glares at me. Actually glares. Those piercing eyes become so intense I half expect laser beams to come out. I actually find myself gulping. "How considerate of you, Mr. Grey." Her voice is so cold it could freeze the Puget Sound solid.
I will definitely talk to Flynn about why that turned me on.
Andrea and Olivia look up in shock when I follow Miss Steele out of the office. I ignore them, focused on trying to salvage my rapidly dwindling time with Miss Steele. She's already pushed the button for the elevator.
"It was a pleasure to meet you," I say, offering my hand again.
She eyes it and then looks at me like I was part of the furniture. "If you say so," she says before turning to face the elevator. It's as clear as a dismissal can get.
I'm actually starting to get kinda pissed. I'm trying to be nice, something I rarely do. She should appreciate the effort.
The door opens and she glides into it, turning on her heel to face me.
"Anastasia," I murmur, hoping to get one last word in.
"Christian." Damn. She beat me again. Now I'm stuck staring at a closed elevator, my own name ringing in my ears.
Fuck me. What the hell just happened?
"Andrea, get me Welch on the line," I snap, returning to normal. I need a background check. One way or another, I'm finding out more about Anastasia Steele.
Well. That had been something.
I rush out of that damn building with as much composure as I can, only to lean back on one of the columns and look up into the grey, misting sky. The cool moisture calms me, washing away the stress of that very unsettling meeting.
Christian Grey was the most unnerving man I'd ever met. One minute I wanted to rip my clothes off, the next I wanted to knock his teeth out. And based on the lifestyle he's clearly into, the two responses aren't necessarily exclusive.
I sigh, mentally replaying the interview in my head. I think I managed to keep my cool, but only because I had Toshiro's discipline and Kate's single-minded focus. I'm a girl who can read minds, I've had more than my fair share of uncomfortable encounters with men. I try to pinpoint why Grey's dirty imaginings bothered me more than every other creep's. Maybe it was the fact that he flew past mentally undressing me to mentally tying me up. Maybe it was the surety of his thoughts, the subconscious guarantee that he could have me if he really wanted me.
Maybe it's the fact he's hot enough you'd let him do it. My libido, poor malnourished thing that it is, chooses now of all times to speak up.
I acknowledge the truth of the thought before I push it aside. As Grey would say, it's only skin-deep.
No man that maladapted has any right to have that amount of power. His thoughts had felt off, whirling from A to Z and back to Q. I'd heard people with bipolar disorder and ADHD, but it wasn't the same. It was more like he'd been smashed to pieces but hadn't fallen apart, held together by pure strength of will and prayers. Like the Colosseum: no concrete, but still standing under the sheer weight of its own mass.
Plus, he's a freaking sadist. Now, I've ran into a sub or two. I know that they genuinely want and enjoy the punishment, and that suits them perfectly for those that like to punish. But something about the whole institution just sticks in my craw.
I'll admit, I might be a bit biased because of my mom's third husband, Stephen Morton. I'd already hated the man for breaking up my mom and Ray, but on top of that he was an abusive sicko. He'd left his last three girlfriends in the hospital. He'd even given me a few looks.
I'd tried to warn my mom. But she wouldn't listen. As with everything when it came to me, she'd floated in a cloud of denial, clinging to the idea that we were just a normal family. And I was to keep my mouth shut about my new dad and listen to my mother, young lady, and say goodbye to Ray so we could move on to being a happy new family.
It took me handcuffing myself to the stairs and swallowing the key for my mom to accept that there was no way in hell I was leaving Ray. She'd just huffed at my dramatics and signed over custody to Ray the next day. Less than a year later, mom and Stephen divorced. He'd broke her damn leg, but she didn't press charges. I'd called her in the hospital, trying very hard to keep any hint of 'I told you so' out of my voice, hoping to reconcile.
She'd actually blamed me. Said I put thoughts in her head, made her see things where they weren't and that's what pissed Morton off and made him hurt her. I slammed the phone shut so hard I broke the plastic casing.
That was the day I realized blood and family aren't mutually inclusive. She might have brought me into this world, but Carla Wilks wasn't a mother. Now we exchange half-hearted chit-chat once or twice a year, but for all intents and purposes we're strangers. And though I recognize that part of the fault lies with her, I will always blame Stephen Morton and his fists for ruining what I had with my mother.
Which is why I had serious doubts I could ever be with a man that enjoyed beating women, even if the women actually liked it.
I feel my shoulders slump. Well, that precludes any kind of relationship, I suppose. No way am I taking on that much crazy with my already abused psyche, let alone for my first try. I guess this will be chalked up to one of those countless 'what-ifs' if I wasn't cursed the way I was.
Still, disturbing as his desires were, I still had a freaking billionaire all but panting after me. That was a nice little ego boost I'd carry with me for a while.
I race down Interstate 5, eager to get as much distance between Christian Grey and me as possible. I get honked at more than once, but I ignore it. I know what I'm doing.
I get back to Portland and retreat to our apartment for the sanctuary that it is. Kate is still on the couch, only this time she's surrounded by books instead of tissues. Finals are upon us, after all. She's in her pink bunny jammies, the ones she only wears when she's, quote, "run out of fucks to give." So, once or twice a month.
"That was fast, even for you," she says as she jumps up to hug me. I relax into the embrace, feeling the jittery tension that had filled me since I left go away. "Am I going to see the high speed chase on the news tonight?"
"Roads were pretty clear, that's all," I murmur. I hand over the recorder, and she clutches it like it's a Tiffany tennis bracelet.
"Thank you again so much for this. I'd have loved to do it myself, but you and your special brand of verbal dissection should be a close second. What's the verdict?" she asks.
I roll my eyes. It goes without saying I'm good at reading people, and Kate has asked for my 'insight' on plenty of other occasions.
"He's a mixed bag. He's intense, focused, old before his time, but at the same time he has a kind of erratic energy, like a kid on a sugar rush. He's very formal and courteous, but that covers up a hair-trigger temper. He knows what he wants and goes for it, and he doesn't care who gets in his way. Great businessman, not so great human being. I hope I never see him again."
Kate whistles. "Damn. Never seen you this worked up about anyone. Can't wait to hear the interview. I'll get right on transcribing this."
I nod, already going for my room. "Alright. I'm going to squeeze in a workout before I make my shift at Clayton's. You're welcome for the soup, by the way."
"Health nut!" she accuses me. "And if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, you can pay the rent with your cooking. I can't taste anything and I still had a foodgasm!"
I shoot her a smile before I close the door. I start breathing deep, reaching for that well of focus within me as I slip out of my stuffy clothes until I'm standing in just my underwear.
I warm up with some stretches, before I eye the pull-up bar affixed to my door. I gather myself, then jump up to catch myself. Once I'm sure of my grip, I carefully let go with my right hand and hold it behind my back. I fill my lungs with oxygen, then exhale as I slowly force my elbow to bend, all my bodyweight coming down on my left bicep. It rises to the challenge and I move up until my chin clears the bar. Then I slowly descend, strictly telling my body not to just flop down. Going down is as important as going up in this exercise.
From my dad, I had learned the secrets of army training, how Uncle Sam turned boys of all body types and fitness into men capable of enduring the trials of war. From Toshiro, I had learned jujitsu, passed down his family line from the time of the samurai, of honor and the mindset of combat. And from my own wanderings about town, I knew just how many wolves there are in the world among us sheep. And I was a prime target, being both short and a girl; I practically had 'helpless' tattooed on my forehead. It wasn't even about health to me, as Kate thought; I just wanted to be able to handle whatever obstacle life threw my way.
I manage fifteen with each arm. My veins feel like they're filled with molten lead, but I relish the burn. As Crossfit keeps telling my dad, 'pain is weakness leaving the body'. I cool down with a few gentle katas, trying to work the movements into my very bones. In a real fight, I won't have time to think all these grapples and hits through. It will be pure muscle memory, and I need be able to ace it without thinking. By the time I'm done, it's about time to leave. I hastily towel off the sweat and apply deodorant, cursing my bloated schedule for not having the time to shower. I wave at Kate, busy typing away, and make for my personal temple to the almighty dollar.
Clayton's is the biggest hardware store in town that isn't some corporate clone. I nod pleasantly at Mrs. Clayton before getting to work doing inventory in the back. I had no personal stake in house work, other than what I picked up from Ray on carpentry. I was here purely for the paycheck, and because you're less likely to touch an attendant in a store than a waitress.
I returned home when it was starting to get dark, exhausted but with thirty more bucks to my name. Kate is still typing away. Her illness has in no way affected her usual machine-gun fingers. That was one skill I hadn't absorbed when we touched. I guess her hands are just wired different.
"You should have switched majors when I bugged you, Ana. This is gold. You played him like a fiddle. How come you didn't take him up on the tour? He clearly wanted to spend time with you."
I ignore the traitorous spike in my heartbeat. "I was mentally exhausted, and he rubbed me the wrong way. I reiterate, I hope never to see him again."
Kate huffs. "Whatevs, Ana. I've got a great article shaping up here. Shame we don't have stills. Handsome son of a bitch isn't he?"
My mind flickers to Christian's thoughts when I brought up the adoption. He literally is the son of a bitch. Or rather a 'crack whore'. Might explain why he's so driven to succeed, to prove he's risen above his past. I refocus on Kate's question. "It's just a face, Kate."
Kate glares at me like I just broke one of the commandments. "I'm starting to wonder if you're asexual, Ana. He practically offered you a job, he was that interested, and you just blew him off. Come on, girl to girl, what did you think of him?"
I fight the urge to groan. Kate's inquisitiveness is one of the things I both love and hate about her. Right now I'm leaning towards the latter. I start to make a sandwich since she's hungry and hasn't noticed yet. "He's bad news. He's the textbook definition of emotionally unavailable. The reason he's never seen with a date is probably because he doesn't keep girls around that long, if you know what I mean."
Kate frowns. "That's a bit harsh, even for you. Are you sure you're not projecting or whatever you call it? He sounds genuinely taken with you."
I sigh. "It's my life, Kate. And I'll be better off without Christian Grey in it. Trust me." I hand her the plate. "BLT with avocado and chipotle mayo."
Kate smiles and gives me a 'what am I going to do with you' look. If she wants to be a chaste hermit, that's her thing. Still, if Christian 'his Hotness' Grey doesn't get her juices flowing, I don't know what will. "You're a goddess. Thanks for everything today, Ana."
I give her a smile and leave her to her thing. I manage to wrap up my Tess of the d'Urbervilles essay by midnight. Damn my professor and her obsession with classic British Literature. We get it, a woman's life used to be a tug-of-war between her needs and her duties and she usually picks wrong and loses in the end. We've moved out of the Dark Ages, give it a rest already.
Maybe I'm cynical, but I don't believe in "click, meant to be, happily ever after." Any and all relationships take time, work, and devotion. To quote the Arabic proverb, 'love comes after marriage'. Granted, there has to be some basic chemistry or common interest, but love doesn't bloom like magic and coast through the trials of life like Teflon. The moment someone starts to think nothing can go wrong with their relationship is usually when it starts to. When and if it ever happens to me, I'll take that spark and nurture it into a flame and make sure it never burns out.
Sometimes I envy Kate and her loosey-goosey views on sexuality. She can have fun with no strings and just move along. When it's an investment for me to even hold someone's hand, I'm left with nothing but a serious, committed relationship, and how many guys my age are looking for that?
Maybe Kate's fears will be realized and I'll end up some lonely old lady. But I don't mind. I'll just live vicariously. I'm better suited to it than most.
And this is what I get for sulking on a Monday night. I shake my head and make for bed. I slip out of all my cloth trappings and slip under my mother's quilt, a souvenir of happier, or at least simpler times.
That was the first night I dreamt of Christian Grey.
So? Whatcha think? Let me know in a review, please! And sorry about that last line. I just couldn't resist!